President Donald Trump plans to confront other world leaders at a summit in Quebec on Friday over what he believes is a global economic system tilted against the United States, several people briefed on the plan said, escalating tensions with allies who have expressed outrage at his pivot toward protectionism.
The summit will put Trump face to face with leaders he has antagonized on a range of issues, including the environment and the U.S. withdrawal last month from the international nuclear accord with Iran.
But the two-day meeting of the Group of Seven, which will bring together many of the world’s leading economies in La Malbaie, a picturesque mountain town, has crystallized into a showdown over trade after Trump’s recent insistence on new barriers that the other nations see as petty and insulting. Most of the other countries represented have a trade beef with Trump that is unlikely to be resolved at the summit — and for each the standoff is one more sign that the United States is pulling back from traditional global leadership roles.
“The good news for him is the Mexicans won’t be there, so that is one less country that he has to deal with” over trade complaints, said William Reinsch, a trade specialist at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. “The others are all mad at him.”
Trump’s top economic adviser characterized the dispute as a “family quarrel,” telling reporters Wednesday that Trump is untroubled by the rancor.
“There are disagreements. He’s sticking to his guns, and he’s going to talk, talk to them,” said White House National Economic Council director Larry Kudlow. “Talk is the best remedy here.”
Trump sees himself as a free trader and a reformer, Kudlow said, and is inviting other nations to work with him to remake a “broken” global trade system. He insisted that the United States is not inviting a trade war.
Trump will meet with Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and French President Emmanuel Macron on the sidelines of the meeting, Kudlow said. The White House announced no individual meetings between Trump and either British Prime Minister Theresa May or German Chancellor Angela Merkel.
In a sign that Trump is looking to stoke divisions, White House officials are discussing ways to impose additional economic penalties against Canada — the host nation for the summit — in retaliation for Ottawa’s threat to levy tariffs next month on roughly $13 billion in U.S.-made products. Among Canada’s targets: orange juice, soy sauce, sleeping bags and inflatable boats.
But there are divergent views within the White House over how to treat Canada, with Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin urging both sides to de-escalate, two people close to the discussions said.
White House officials are also considering whether to have Trump refuse to sign on to a customary joint agreement at the end of the G-7 summit, one senior administration official said, as a signal that the old ways of doing business are over.
Trump is also facing stiff pushback at home, with Republican leaders panning his latest trade moves.
The president personally lobbied Senate Foreign Relations Chairman Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) on Wednesday to back down on his bill that would put new restrictions on the White House’s ability to impose tariffs. But Corker told Trump he would not pull his bill, which has growing support on Capitol Hill. Instead, he plans to push ahead, potentially weakening Trump’s hand heading into the G-7 meetings with the divisions among Republicans over trade now fully on display.